In a land where the cuisine is all-important, Puglia's cucina povera (or peasant cuisine) is extraordinary – olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, artichokes, peppers, salami, mushrooms, olives and fresh seafood. To say that Puglia has Italy’s best food is no exaggeration. It offers fresh ingredients, whether pulled from the sea or picked from the nearest tree.
Puglia’s rapidly expanding wine scene has something for all tasting types. Castel del Monte delivers red wines from Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero and Aglianico. Interesting work is being done with crisp Bombino Bianco white wines and sweet Moscato di Trani. Further south, the Primitivo grape (Primitivo di Manduria) is famously linked genetically to Zinfandel. Local wines show ripe berry nuances, inky concentration and soft tannins. Salice Salentino is planted to Negroamaro (sometimes blended with Malvasia Nera) for hearty reds. The past five years have a remarkable rise of crisp white wines from Greco, Fiano, Malvasia and Chardonnay.
The octagonal Castel del Monte, a 13th-century castle, inspires architects today, and the historic city of Lecce offers the purest expression of Moorish-Italian Baroque. Weathered stone and whitewashed buildings pop against green olive groves. Trulli are the mysterious cone houses in the Itria Valley, and all of Puglia’s stunning beauty is surrounded by some of the bluest waters in Europe.
“Castel del Monte is an astronomical machine more than a castle,” says Sebastiano de Corato, export manager for Rivera in Andria. “Go in the late afternoon as the setting sun reflects off the white stone. Built in the 1200s by Emperor Frederick II, the eight-sided castle was constructed according to the Golden Ratio, and symbolic shadows are cast during the equinox and different times of year. It has all sorts of Da Vinci Code-like appeal.”
Culture & Tradition
This is a land of superstitions, and old-timers warn that poisonous tarantulas will bite humans (mostly young females), forcing them into a frenzied, trance-like dance called tarantella. This mystical affliction continues today with the contemporary pizzica dance and music festivals all summer long, where you can see the dance performed. Young women in flowing skirts swirl and stomp to rhythmic tambourine beats late into the night.
Pizzica Pizzica and La Notte della Taranta in Puglia
Shrouded in myth and legend and dating back many thousands of years, the Pizzica dance was thought to have been the only cure for a tarantula bite, or for “someone possessed by the devil”...
When it was thought or known that someone had been bitten, usually while working in the fields, the local band would pick up their instruments (traditionally violins, mandolins, guitar, flute, accordion and large tambourine) and rush to the house of the afflicted.
Once there they would begin to play, slowly at first, while the patient, usually in a high fever by this time, began the dance. As the music got faster, so did the steps of the dancer, whose aim was to expel the poison (or malignant spirit) through sheer force of motion and perspiration. Often family and other villagers would join in in a show of solidarity. The dance would continue “prestissimo” (in as fast a tempo as possible) until the afflicted person collapsed to the floor, utterly exhausted and hopefully cured.
This important folk tradition is celebrated each year in August at a festival called La Notte della Taranta. The towns and villages of Grecìa Salentina, the area south of Lecce and west of Otranto, all come together, hosting concerts, dancing and vivacious parties. Musicians and bands from around the world are invited to take part.
Flanked by two seas, magical Puglia is an undiscovered land with a quality of life that most only dream of. Puglia has some of the brightest seas, most diverse art and architecture, most mouthwatering peasant cuisine and kindest people in all of Italy.